May 7, 2016. 1:00PM. That’s the date and time of my baccalaureate graduation. Four years came and went. Before wrapping up this whole college thing, I decided it was the perfect time for one last adventure. I’ll be moving back home (at least for the summer) and had to take advantage of the sites to be seen around the outskirts of San Diego — and I mean 500+ miles away from San Diego. Where to? Hmm. Somewhere I’ve never been. Ahh, yes.The Grand Canyon.
Just one weekend before my graduation; the weekend before finals. While my fellow classmates rot in the library, my sister, friend and I hit the road making as many exciting stops as we dam well pleased (yeah, like the Hoover Dam).
We all piled into my 2002 Toyota Camry with junk food, Red Bulls, and waterproof ponchos on Friday afternoon. With all the pride in the world, I refused to accept any offers extended from my friend or sister to help me drive, so the entire 1,200 miles were collected by my own foot to my own car’s accelerator. The desert stretch between San Diego and Las Vegas got pretty monotonous and tiresome but the troops were full of energy. My friend happens to treat all communication like a comedy show, so that made for sufficient entertainment — an incredible annoyance at certain moments along the road. Along the 15-N, we stumbled upon one of the most magical sights we had ever beheld. Abandoned things!
My sister and I have a strange fascination with abandoned and slightly haunted things so we were extremely excited to stumble upon the Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark! It was like an oasis in the desert — minus the water… We took an exit further up the road and blindly followed whatever road seemed to lead to the park. Originally I began driving on a dirt/gravel covered road but it seemed a bit iffy for my car so I quickly backed out of the plan and took the more developed road that ran alongside the 15-S. After a short time we pulled up alongside a locked up chain fence and whipped out my Sector 9 Sidewinder longboard. This eerie park made for a legit skate park! I hear Tony Hawk skated all over for a MINI commercial 😉 How cool is that? With graffiti laden walls and questionable structures, the three of had a field day taking pictures and videos for Vine. Me? I skated all over the thing! To be honest, this was probably my favorite stop along the way to the Grand Canyon (not even too far behind the Grand Canyon itself — yeah we like abandoned things THAT much).
And so we pressed on!
After this rejuvenating stop, we continued our trek to Las Vegas… until we hit Zzyzx Road. Zzyzx Road is less popular than other exciting abandoned and weird places but we’d heard of it. Some crazy guy ran a town at the far side of Zzyzx Road. He claimed to be a doctor, professor of made up Universities, and sold homemade medicines (sketchy). He capitalized on his “Hot Springs” spa which was really just him heating up a pool to warm temperatures. Katherine Heigl starred in a low-grade film by the name of Zzyzx Road as well. I haven’t seen this but I hear it sucks! I’d love to watch it. I thought this would be scary and we even played some creepy music in the background while I drove down the road. Strangely, it turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful. At the end of the road there was no creepy town but a Science Research Center! Beyond the road lies a beautiful salty flat scape of desert. It sort of made me think of “Holes.” My friend and sister stood out of the car’s sunroof and out the car window to enjoy the view. We later pulled over and took in the view. A worthwhile detour.
And so… we pressed on!
After two unplanned stops, we were running behind schedule. We did have an itinerary that I put together with little intention of following it perfectly, but I mean, we were a few hours behind schedule at this point. There other things we were tempted to pull over for — especially a town blatantly called “Ghost Town” and the random roller coaster just outside of Vegas — but we kept going! After an unfortunate stretch of traffic near the Vegas strip, we arrived at our friend’s house on the edge of the city. We unloaded some of our things, freshened up, and hit the strip! BUT FIRST… our friend thought he would give us a warm up and take us to the Pinball Hall of Fame!
Guys, I was tired so it really seemed like I was being sarcastic every time I tried to assure our friend that this was one of the coolest places I’ve seen. It was perfectly sketchy looking with fluorescent lights that were far too dim and creepy broken down games that would animate marionette puppets. This place had literally hundreds of pinballs. Our friend excitedly emptied his pockets of quarters and used some to dispense some delicious popcorn for us before letting us loose on these arcade games. My sister was easily the least amused — she’s not really into that stuff. We waited for the popular air hockey table to clear and that’s when I beheld the greatest thing ever: a real, old fashioned, classic game of Tron! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kind of expect to get sucked into the game with a Daft Punk music score following my every move along the Grid. I was a little disappointed that didn’t happen.
After destroying my friend at air hockey, getting demolished by our friend living in Vegas, and tag teaming the Space Jam version of pin ball, we were prepared to hit the strip. A few of our Vegas resident’s friends joined us for the fun. Surprisingly, the strip was one of the less exciting parts of this adventure. Christian sisters can only do so much in Sin City…
We kept it classy: tried to ignore the pornographic cards littering the floor, rejecting sketchy offers to enter strip clubs for free, and stayed clear of the gambling tables. Instead, we parked at the Belagio (I at least pretended I was in an Oceans movie) and explored the M&M, Coca-Cola, and New York, New York areas. I definitely wore the wrong shoes for all that walking and was pretty exhausted from all the driving so I could only enjoy this portion so much. Our friend told us he had some ice blocking adventures planned for us but we were way too tired and had to get an early start on the road the following morning. I’m glad we called it quits; my sister fell asleep in the car just driving back to our friend’s house.
The next morning, we pressed on!!!
Our friend living in Vegas was originally planning to join us at the Grand Canyon but was devastated to learn he had to work. The next morning he cooked us a hearty breakfast and we were back on the road by 8:00am. Traffic was horrible due to some pretty intense rain. The freeway was reduced to one lane and this really set us back further than we had planned. Once we squeezed past the traffic, I was nearly falling asleep at the wheel so we pulled over for some coffee. It was in this Starbucks parking lot that I also stuck an awesome temporary tattoo on my neck (see below – art by Sam Larson). It was hear the we heard from our Vegas friend that his work was cancelled! We were now about an hour out and were shocked to hear that he wanted to join us. He jumped in his own car and started heading to the Grand Canyon! Wow. He ended up not so far behind us… mostly because we made another last minute stop. 🙂
It was great. I pictured that movie San Andreas — so I was actually worried about devastating earthquakes — and Transformers — so I imagined the dam being wrecked by robot cars…
But it was a short stop and we soon pressed on!
The road from here on out was ridiculous! We literally experienced all the weathers… just… all of them. I hydroplaned a few horrifying times and had a few heart attacks. It poured, it hailed, there was lightning, thunder, and probably most terrifying… snow. So much snow!
Thank God!!! We made it to our hotel. Our Vegas friend caught up quickly and almost immediately after setting our bags down in the room we got a call that he was in there. We piled on some clothes and our waterproof ponchos and headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Finally. This was what we had been waiting for all this time. Just as we pulled into the parking lot… snow. Everywhere. The sky was entirely masked by ominous grey clouds and white icy clumps of snow just shanked our faces. The lightning was sparse but the thunder was frightening. I wasn’t going to let the weather ruin this. I had plans to hike the South Kaibab trail down to Ooh-Ahh Point to watch the sunset and that’s what I was going to do. Only it wasn’t. The man at the Visitor Center strongly urged us not to do it. We settled for a nearby Mather Viewpoint. As we inched closer it became clearer and clearer that our view would be far from clear. Everything was white. The canyon was entirely invisible. I could barely notice the near walls of the canyon — honestly, it was truly awesome to me. Even that little bit of view that I had was magnificent. But I was so disheartened. I had just driven such a great distance for THIS!? The icy cold water was seeping through my shoes and I was sure I was getting frost bitten. My optimism quickly faded and I was desperate to just get back to the hotel room. That’s what we did. We pigged out on McDonald’s and were in bed by 5:00pm.
We were all pretty defeated which meant that “pressing on” was getting difficult. My genius plan B was to wake up at the crack of dawn and catch the first shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. That meant we would have to be at the park by 4:30am. Everyone else was a bit hesitant. The weather showed no signs of clearing up. Our phones said the following day would be rainy and overcast with clouds. Would it be worth such an early morning?
I prayed. I asked God for something as menial as clearing the weather. At 3:30am my Lord of the Rings themed alarm clock went off and I immediately pulled up the forecast which read: Mostly Cloudy! This was such a ray of hope for me 🙂 That’s all I needed. Just a sliver of sunlight. I was pleased to discover that I had a flashlight in my makeup box because it was pitch black outside and the temperature in the 30s. We were the only car in the parking lot and doing lunges and lightly jogging just to keep ourselves warm as we waited for the shuttle. Another Swedish couple later joined us at the shuttle stop.
We reached the trailhead and the Swedish couple decided to hike down with us since we had a flashlight. I could tell we were going down something incredibly deep but it was so dark and my eyes were only on the steps in front of me lit only by my flashlight. I refused to walk anywhere remotely close to the edge for fear of plummeting to my death. There was some snow on the trail and I slipped a few times. Many parts of the path were covered in mud and puddles (one of which my sister fell into). Slowly the darkness lifted and I was able to put away my flashlight. We all quickly got passed by a clearly experienced hiker. We realized that it had been quite some time on the trail. We were all planning to stop at the Ooh-Ahh point. It would only be 1.9 miles round trip but we felt like we had been hiking far past .95 miles. We continued anyways and eventually reached a wide open space with a sign saying, “Cedar Ridge.” Uh-oh. This meant we accidentally went to the second stopping point which meant 1.5 miles down and 1.5 hideous miles up! Oh, but it was beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking. God is so kind. I’m so glad I was able to leave having seen this grand and beautiful place.
You think this would be it, right? Nope!
Driving back to San Diego after this early and strenuous morning was bordering on torture. We chose a route that would take slightly more time but it would take us through Arizona and California’s desert. It seemed like a fun more scenic route but while the others fell asleep in the car, I had to keep my eyes open as I drove a straight path to San Diego. We didn’t pull over too much on this stretch of the road trip. We pulled over at an fun little lookout up in the steep mountains outside Prescott, AZ. But that was it for a long time. We enjoyed a meal in Prescott at Iron Springs Cafe (highly recommend and literally recommended it on Yelp). As I neared the Mexico border outside of Brawley, I beheld another glorious sight. The Imperial Sand Dunes.
Now, I’ve wanted to see this FOREVER. I didn’t know we’d drive by it but suddenly there were hills of sand all over the place! I told my friend and sister that we absolutely needed to pull over. “No Parking Anytime” signs ran all along the road but I just needed to lay in that soft sand. My sister told me to pull over on the shoulder. Unfortunately, I got too excited and went too far into the sand. Oh, how my heart sang. As I pressed on the accelerator with no movement, my sister stared at me with such disappointment and I felt like crying. I was so exhausted and in the middle of nowhere. It seemed that what would follow would be hours of just waiting for help. I hopped out of my car and began digging away at the sand to uncover my buried wheels. When I looked up, I saw my friend standing with her hands on her hips and a look of accomplishment. Behind her I saw a white municipal truck with a crane and chain. A few yards in front of us I saw a van with an older man and his son. WHAT!? God? Are you serious!?
What are the chances that in the middle of nowhere, a truck with all the necessary equipment and a van with a young guy who helps with car maintenance in the military would just happen to be right behind us and willing to pullover and help us. The truck hooked his chain to my car, the military guy got in and steered, and in 5 minutes from the moment I got stuck, my car was out and ready to be back on the road! PRAISE GOD! I didn’t lay in the sand… I didn’t really get my picture… but that’s ok 🙂
Once we dropped off my friend, my sister and I went straight to a Pho restaurant. While eating dinner, our friend desperately begged us to join her at the movie theater to watch Mother’s Day (literally, the dumbest movie I’ve ever watched by the way) and so we went. We didn’t actually get home and relax till 10:00pm! So crazy. All day I would randomly turn to my sister and say, “This morning we were in the Grand Canyon.” That thought was crazy, especially at 10:00pm in San Diego.
This was the best way to finish up school. I really went out with a bang.